Friday, June 21, 2013

Writing good Descriptions and Keywords for your stock music tracks

A letter / note to all musicians sending in music to

When I first started in 1999/2000, I was working with a handful of composers and those composers would simply send me their music and I’d write the Descriptions and Keywords for all tracks. But as more and more people have joined up, we are now over 300 composers on the site and I’ve had to start asking people to include Descriptions, Keywords and BPM Tempo for all tracks that are submitted to because it’s simply not possible for me to write all that for all the composers any more.

So now, whenever a composer sends a music track to be included in our catalogue, I need that composer to always include good quality information / description along with their tracks. Many of you are very talented composers and producers, but sadly, not as interested, or talented, at writing the descriptions and keywords that the customers will see before, or during, listening to your tracks. Some of you send descriptions that are, frankly, terrible. For that reason, I’ve decided to write this “guide” to help you guys submit better information with your future track submissions, for the benefit of your own sales and earnings, as well as the business as a whole.

I’ve decided to start with a fictional example of an information file that looks something like actual ones that I receive from time to time. This is just me coming up with some “bad example” of what you should not submit:

This amazing track is all about adventure ,thrills ,confident macho ,underscore film music!
a great track for you with goosebumps ,corporate ,business track,

Riff Distortion Power Heavy, Raw,,Gritty
dirty,hypnotic.trancey,mesmerising ,corporate.

This is so bad on so many levels. Firstly, read the description. It doesn’t make sense at all! It’s not built up of coherent sentences. It’s just a bunch of “jibber jabber”, as Mr. T would have called it!

Now, look at the punctuation. Spaces before the commas? Ending the entire thing with a comma? Frankly, I can’t use something like this on the site.

Now, the keywords. Look at the punctuation. Most keywords are separated by a comma, but NO SPACE. This is a very bad idea, because without the comma and a space, it’s all going to be seen as one word by the search engine, and as a result, the track is not going to be found. The keywords / key phrases must be separated by a comma and then a space. Like this: “inspiring, strong, meaningful”. NOT like this: “inspiring,strong,meaningful” and NOT like this: “inspiring ,strong ,meaningful”. And the same thing goes when you are writing a sentence. You cannot write “powerful ,punchy and gutsy”. You must write it as “powerful, punchy and gutsy”. Do you see the difference? When using a comma in a sentence (OR in a list of keywords), you must always write the comma, THEN a space, THEN the next word.

Also, why the hard line breaks in the list of keywords? Why “gritty” then a HARD LINE BREAK, and then “dirty”? I can’t use the list like that. I can’t have hard line breaks in the description OR the keywords. So I find myself having to detail edit all of this before being able to put it into my database.

Ok, that was my fictional but somewhat typical “bad example” of the day taken care of. Now let’s go to some guidelines which I hope you guys can keep in mind, and adhere to, when sending tracks in for inclusion in our catalogue.

1)       Do not use excessive superlatives about your tracks in the description. NEVER use words like “awesome”, “perfect”, “incredible” or similar. It just makes us look stupid and childish. Sometimes I see something like “This track is perfect for any media production!”. WHAT??? A track that is PERFECT for ANY MEDIA PRODUCTION???? Come off it! NO track is PERFECT for ANY MEDIA PRODUCTION. Never! Can’t you instead try something like “Will work well with corporate media and business applications.”?! I refuse to believe that your track, no matter how great you think it is, is perfect for any media production. No way.
2)       Never  use exclamation marks (!) in your descriptions. Just never. If you want to say “This track will bring a surge of energy to your production.” - end it with a full stop (.), NEVER with an exclamation mark (!). The exclamation mark is BANNED, with only ONE exception and that is when used for comic effect. For example: “This is a thigh-slapping, barnstorming, chicken chasing hoe-down with a crazy fiddle and banjo. Yee-haw!”. This is the only type of setting in which an exclamation mark is accepted.
3)       Try not to put the customers’ minds onto a very specific scene when you are describing your track, because generally, your customer is not working on a scene exactly like that! Descriptions such as “This is a good track for two people holding hand while walking on a beach” is a BAD IDEA because 99.99% of our customers are NOT working on a scene where two people hold hands and walk on a beach, so you have pretty much excluded those customers by putting a specific image in their mind, which does not match the scene that the customer is working on. In this case, you would be better off writing something like “A gentle and romantic track that will work for scenes of love and quiet romance”. This leaves so much more open to the customer’s own imagination, and perhaps now you are giving the customer a chance to listen to your track while imagining the track in their own scene – not in your scene.
4)       Don’t be afraid to use pretty short, neutral, almost boring descriptions. I have some descriptions on the site that just go: “Electronica / dance track with a moderate energy level. Swirling synths / mid-tempo beat”. That’s it. This track sells really well! I have many others with similarly bland, but functional descriptions. This is clearly a good quality description that works well for customers and make them want to listen to, and buy the track. This is all you need, really. You do not need to stir the imagination too much or take the customer on some kind of amazing journey with your description. Customers like to make their own minds up about just how “amazing” your track is. A neutral, to the point, description is enough.
5)       Now we come to the Keywords. The worst sin for keywords is to spam the keywords field with unrelated keywords. That is the WORST offense in my book. Many of you will include a lot of keywords that just aren’t that related to the track, but you figure you want to include them because you think a lot of customers search for that, so you want to include those words just to make your tracks come up in search more often, even if they are not relevant to that keyword. An example of this is the word “corporate”. Some of you include that word in the keywords list NO MATTER WHAT the track sounds like. Like a gentle piano ballad. Or a jazz track. Please! Don’t do it! Okay, it may be that some corporation would want to use your piano ballad in a project, but that does not make the track suitable to include “corporate” in the keywords.  I also see quite often that some of you have a “standard list of keywords” that you copy to ALL your tracks, and then you just write in a couple of new keywords individually for each track that are relevant to the track. Like you will have “uplifting, bright, warm, confident,” and several other keywords and copy these to ALL your tracks, no matter what the track sounds like – and then just write four or five additional keywords that are actually related to the track. This is considered spamming and is not tolerated. Your hardcore electro/grunge industrial track IS NOT “warm”! As a collective of composers and music marketers, we do not want customers to search for “warm” and then get a post-industrial hard core grunge metal track to come up in the search results! It just damages the reputation for the entire site, and in turn, the sales of your music and your income. The only time a standard list of keywords copied to all your tracks is acceptable is if you have been working on a project with several tracks of exactly the same style. For example, a whole bunch of 1970’s funk tracks, that are all different tracks, but have the same style, same sound, same usage area, basically same instrumentation etc. THEN you may submit them with all the same keywords for all the tracks.
6)       Now to the punctuation in the keywords: Always separate keywords and key phrases with a comma, and then a space. LIKE THIS: “cold, isolated, lonely, homesick, desolate”. NOT just a comma but no space “cold,isolated,lonely...” and NOT a space and then comma “cold ,isolated ,lonely...”. The same is the case when you are writing descriptions. Never write a space and then a comma, and never just a comma without any space. It’s ALWAYS a comma, then a space. Like this: “Useful for workout, aerobics, running and exercise”.  Never use HARD LINE BREAK (“paragraph break”) in either the Descriptions OR the keywords.
7)       Please always include the BPM Tempo when you submit track information. If you do not submit the BPM tempo, then the track will simply go into the database with a BPM tempo of “0” and if a customer decides to browse music with BPM Tempo (or tempo range) as a criterium, your track will never come up in his searches. So you are losing potential sales. If you don’t know the BPM Tempo of your tracks from your DAW / sequencer / Protools etc., then you can find the tempo of your tracks by listening to your track while tapping the keyword on your computer, on this page:
8)       Finally, a request that you please put the descriptions, keywords and BPM tempo for your tracks into one document per submission, NOT one document per track. It just makes it a bit easier for me when I can simply have one document open and then copy & paste from that one document while working on your tracks – rather than constantly have to close a document and open a new one. And my preferred format is Excel format, with one track per line, and columns for title, composer(s), genre(s), BPM tempo, Description, and Keywords. Although Word / Text format is accepted also.

I guess many of you will be asking yourself why don’t I create some kind of “self upload” and “self publishing” feature on the website, where you composers have to log in, upload your files, type in your descriptions and keywords, set the genres etc. and do everything yourself. And I can simply sit back and let you guys do everything yourself, and stuff just comes out on the site.

The reason why I’ve never done that is quite simply that I don’t want it like that. Especially having seen some of the descriptions, keywords, genre classifications etc. that come in from some of the composers, I’d be MAD to let you guys loose and just put stuff out on the site, as submitted. The site would deteriorate into... well... something like those sites that DO practice that self publishing method. It’s a wish-wash of badly written descriptions, tracks put in the wrong genres, keywords spamming and such that generally make for a very bad user experience. You guys already know about some sites like this. I don’t have to mention them. Here at we don’t want it like that. I myself take on the role and responsibility of “Quality control” for everything that goes out on the site. If you spam the keywords field, I will simply edit your keywords field before publishing it, or worse, I may decide to skip your track and not put it on the site at all, because it’s too much hassle for me to fine-tune your descriptions or keywords.

I guess it’s not fair to expect all composers to be good writers, or even to be able to write with correct punctuation. Perhaps it shouldn’t be necessary for success, to be expected to be able to compose and produce amazing music, AND also to be able to write good English. But the fact of the matter is, in the business of stock music / production music / royalty-free music that IS necessary. You DO have to be able to compose a great track AND to write a reasonably well written description. And also to keep yourself pretty organized, so that you know what you’ve submitted, when you submitted it, where to log in to check your sales, when to expect payment. It’s a harsh reality, but “just” being a great composer isn’t enough in this business. You have to have other skills too, like writing and organizational skills.

In this letter I’ve used a lot of “loud language”. I’ve used ALL CAPITALS, I’ve used bold and italics, I’ve even used exclamation marks! Which, really, are banned. :-) But there’s a difference between me writing a letter to you guys, my partners and friends, and writing language to appear on our website, in the descriptions of our tracks, which customers by their thousands come to read every day.

Thanks for your time, guys! I’m always looking forward to your new submissions, and although I don’t use all tracks that are being submitted to the site now (I use maybe half of the tracks sent in, and skip/drop the other half, due to the sheer volume of new music being submitted, at a faster rate than what I’m able to handle), I always appreciate your submissions and listen with great interest when new tracks come in.

I have one final note. I’m sending this letter to more than 100 different guys. A lot of you are going to reply, to send me your thoughts and feedback on these subjects. You are more than welcome to! I can’t answer everybody, because I have a ton of stuff to do, and an overflooded inbox. But I will read all your responses and take everything into consideration, even if I do not respond.

Have a great weekend, guys! And for no reason what so ever, here’s a photo of my daughter and myself in an elevator, on our way to the gym.

All the best,

Bjorn A. Lynne – founder, CEO and composer

Thursday, June 13, 2013

New subgenres in Childrens & Comedy music

We are doing some restructuring of the "Childrens & Comedy Music" genre at, so please excuse the mess for a few days. Back when we started our business, one common genre for "Childrens music & comedy music" was enough, but by this time we have about 500 tracks in this genre, ranging from sweet and calm lullabyes to wacky and outrageous banjo "chicken chase" tracks, so it's time to restructure. We've created these new subcategories:

  • Children's -> Lullabyes & Softies
  • Children's -> Songs & Nursery rhymes
  • Children's -> Simple & Sweet (babies & toddlers)
  • Children's -> Cool & Cheeky (older kids)
  • Comedy music -> Wacky & Outlandish
  • Comedy music -> Quirky & Odd
And we are systematically working our way through all tracks, getting them placed in the new subgenres. Until this process has been finished, you can find all the "unsubcategorized" childrens / comedy tracks in the temporary genre called "Childrens & Comedy -> Childrens & Comedy General/Other".

Thanks for your patience!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Getting started with Voiceovers

By Max Laing

Voiceover talent doesn't come naturally to everyone, but having the right tools, advice, and some great background music from is a great way to get started.


Whether you're working on a low budget podcast, give prerecorded presentations, or plan to work in the film industry, everyone looking to accomplish voiceover work has to start somewhere. Sometimes just knowing what you need can be a challenge. Max Laing has spent decades working with audio recording, and he recently shared some advice on how to get started with voiceover recording.

How and why did you choose to get started in radio and voice work?

Somebody made the mistake of telling me I had a good voice a long time ago, and when people weren't looking I'd walk up to a microphone that somebody happened to leave on or whatever and I could hear myself rumble through these big speakers. All of a sudden, that was a new level of power. I was very used to low frequencies anyway because I played the tuba, so anything that was very low and the rumbling tones, the fact that I could produce that with my voice back then was just an amazing thing. Of course you can't do that very loud with the human body. Most people can't, and I'm the same. Just because I can produce the tone doesn't mean that I could project it. But the microphones - now that allowed my voice to be projected and I'll tell you what, one's rumbling voice combined with amplification the first time and it was over with. I was hooked. After that, came the whole new world of equalization and taking out the highs and lows and making it sound like you know what you're talking about.

What would you say is your formula for creating a good voiceover?

Well, certainly it goes without saying, if it's not something that's whimsical, if it's going to be meaningful and means something to the person that's asking to do it, then you've got to be in the right mindset. If you're aggravated, it's going to come out in your voice. It's very hard to mask that. That's just on the personal end. The flip side of that on the technology end is you've got to have a flat room. You've got to get rid of all the extra noise in the background. You've got to be able to amp up your mic as much as possible while you deaden the rest of the room. You want a flat, flat, flat response. Nothing extra boomy, nothing extra tinty, all the popping p's - you want to get everything out of the way. You warm up with some of the standard little things that everybody says, "Wheat checks, rice checks, corn checks" - you want to make sure the mic is not popping on your voice. You'll say a few "p" words, a few "s" words, making sure you're not hissing. You listen to a couple of the initial recordings back to make sure you don't have a fan running in the background; as we've converted from tape machines, well we've now gone into computers and with computers comes what? Fans. And they have fans all over the place. Some of them enough to cause a small tornado. So you've got to really keep down as much of that background noise as possible. One of the tricks is to put a noise gate on the mic so that the gate or openness of the mic isn't actually on until you're making a noise above a certain level. So when you get it set just right, your voice will be over any extra background noise that you're not able to contain. Then as soon as you stop speaking, it "closes" the gate, preventing that background noise from seeping through. That's one of the very powerful tricks that everybody in that business uses. To be able to suppress as much sound as possible and mask it in ways - and that's what a noise gate allows you to do is mask it with your own voice - but when you're not speaking and the gaps between what you're saying, where the background noise is, still doesn't get to seep in then either because the gate is very quickly responding to you not making a sound at a particular level. When you have stopped, just for that brief moment of making a sound, it shuts the gate very, very quickly. It's all electronic so it can move literally at the speed of light, and if you've got the thing set just right, your audience will not be able to tell. The listening ear will not be able to tell on the other end that you're dealing with a noise gate.

You mentioned to once that your setup is the same whether the recording is going to be 12 minutes or 12 hours. What kind of audio equipment do you currently use for your voiceover work?

Well I've got a microphone from Carvin, and it is an XLR mic. We run it completely straight, balanced with 48 volt phantom power on it. It's a condenser mic so it picks up very, very rich sounds. Obviously I have a windscreen on that. We're recording with Sonar, the next to latest version of Sonar. We'll probably be upgrading soon. There's far more elaborate software out there, far more elaborate programs for anyone to draw from, but the needs for simple voiceover work are not that complex. As a matter of fact, the program that I'm using far exceeds the need that I have on getting the recording into the machine, but that's okay, that means that there's going to be a nice crisp, clear recording, usually around at least 24, maybe 48-bit level. So we're exceeding right out of the gate the 44.1 kHz frequencies of what you'd get off of a CD, of what the limitations of a CD would be. We're already recording it better than standards. So, if we ever reduce audio down to the CD level, the initial recordings are better than what you would expect when you go and purchase something out of a store. Not that any of us could really tell with our ear; the fact of the matter is recording things this way just allows you to not lose anything.

Speaking of microphones, what should someone look for when choosing a microphone for voice recording? And is it different if you're singing as opposed to speaking?

Yes. There are differences. Depending on your application you have to figure out what the best kind of mic is for your application. If you are trying to record a complete room, well then you're wanting an omnidirectional mic. If you're trying to record a person speaking straight on into that mic, or maybe an instrument playing directly into it, then you would go for the unidirectional. Meaning from one direction. The mic that I use is unidirectional. There's a sweet spot, and wherever you can position your mouth in relevance to your mic or whatever's making the noise you're trying to record in relevance to the mic, you adjust it in that uni position, that one position that's the sweet spot for that mic. That gives you the best sound for the recording. If you're going with an omnidirectional, you may have 4 or 5 omni mics strategically placed around the room.

What about the computer? Can you do audio work with a simple desktop system or does it have to be a $3,000 computer with some fancy audio card?

It used to have to be a fancy $3,000 computer. Now we're up into 48 and 96 bit recording arenas, but 24 bit was the lowest anyone could go if you were going to be real serious in capturing audio on your computer and the processing speed - we just didn't have a lot of that back then. So $3,000 was not out of the question. You really had to have a beefy machine back then and what made it so costly, aside from obviously the processor, was the separate sound card. You needed these very specialized sound cards and all the RAM that you could possibly get put into these machines. Of course hard drive price was at a premium back then and if you were going to do anything more than a minute or two recording at a time, you'd better have a very fast hard drive. You had to have processors with L1 and L2 cache that was just maxed out as much as possible, giving as much buffer as you possibly could to the hard drives because they just were not transferring data. Hard drives back then, if they even had a buffer at all, were certainly nothing to write home about. So you had to get the fastest drives possible. 5400 rpm would never do. Anything under 7200 rpm would just cause a lot of hiccups in the audio when it would go to write out of the memory. And of course if you didn't have enough RAM, well you'd wind up crashing your system or just all sorts of stuff, trying to get throughput back to the drive. So yeah there were many growing pains back then. But fortunately a lot of people stuck with it and hardware prices came down. You can literally now set up a turnkey studio, with the recording software from Sonar, you can do this for around $600-700 now and have a very nice system.

Does that include the $200 microphone?

No, absolutely not. You gotta buy gas for your car too.

What would you recommend to someone who is interested in starting to record voiceovers? Like training, demos, lots of practice, that sort of thing?

Well, back when, if we weren't in today's age, I would say call up radio stations and see if the DJs would release their little demo recordings. A lot of DJs would do that; they would just put out their stuff like that, or you could flip back from one radio station to another and listen to the commercials, because the commercials contain a tremendous amount of talent. They've got to sell people on the idea that those people in the local area - their good name is going to sound great coming out of that box at the radio station. And the only way to do that is to show pizzazz in the voice so the radio stations were looking to get as many different ways of speaking and saying various things out, becomes their commercials. That's a great way to study what's going on.

In today's more so modern technological advances, I would say if someone's interested, is to go online to various radio stations and find the individual web site for each one of the DJs. There's just a preponderance of information available on the web. Free audio out there on various talents' web sites - a DJ or someone doing voiceover, that's called a "talent" - that's what you're going to be if you're getting into this line, so you stumble onto their web sites, you find where their audio demos are, you download those and just have at it. And take a wide variety of what's out there. You can get more now in one concerted effort in one sitting online and finding this information than you could flipping back and forth between radio stations for an entire month. You can really go out there and get a lot of this audio down and in front of you so that you can consume it at your own pace.

Would you recommend that someone get a voice coach or acting lessons or some kind of formal training?

Especially if it were someone younger, and maybe they have a great voice but they're not so good on their pronunciation, or maybe they're not so good on being able to speak the King's English without an accent applied, a voice coach is something they could explore, but most people can just listen to sitcoms. If they can hear something and then replicate it with their own voice, they can work around whatever their local social conditioning is. But they have to be able to hear it.

Great speaking isn't about speaking, it's about hearing and converting that into the presentation.

You've got to be able to hear it first, even if you're just hearing it in your head you've got to be able to hear it first before you can present it. Sadly, that's a step that most people skip.

I know a lot of voiceover professionals work out of their homes. What kind of challenges are there with working out of a home studio?

Other people. If you're not living in your own bat cave; if you don't have absolute control over your environment; you might even be living alone and recording in an apartment arena but your next door neighbors have kids or maybe they like to fight a lot and beat on the walls - who knows what - but if you cannot control your recording environment, it's just nothing but frustration. You've got to be able to control the world around you because if you can't do that and reduce stress - because that's going to come out in your voice too - if this isn't something that is easy for you to control, then maybe you ought to consider moving or taking on another line of work or whatever. You've really got to be able to convey for your client whatever it is that they're wanting, and if the stress is coming through your voice, that's a big problem. The other thing is, other people have lives too and they cannot operate around your schedule or your client's schedule, so you know, many people who do this type of work, typically work late at night, they're more so on the end of a recluse. If they can't do full sound proof they'll keep their studio as isolated as possible. It's sometimes very difficult, but you don't want to have to go back and fix something in post by canceling out sounds unless it was something you accidentally boo-booed during the recording and didn't fix in real time. Other than that, trying to cancel out all other types of noises after-the-fact, you're going to quadruple if not even more of the time you spend in this versus putting something in the can and getting it to your client. You shouldn't have to fix that much in post outside of just the things you're responsible for personally. You can't take on the rest of the planet because that too will be recorded if you can't control your environment. That's one of the biggest frustrations about any of this is the working at home element. You've got to be able to cage yourself off somewhere; and it's not just about the passerby or the random noise or someone setting something down on the coffee table, it could be something as simple as a ticking clock in the other room. Believe it or not it could be that. Or the dog that's been sleeping all night and you've just gotten full stride and are in your first minute or minute and a half of recording and it's fixing to go very well and all of a sudden the dog will bark for no apparent reason. If you're not controlling your explosion, if you're not controlling your surroundings, then you're just in for a huge emotional ride.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Working with audio in Sony Vegas® - Part Two - Adding FX, Mixing & Rendering Audio Files

by Simon Power


In this series of articles we will be offering fundamental help and advice to amateur and semi-pro audio/visual producers who use Sony Vegas and want to incorporate music, voice overs and SFX in their productions.


In part one of this tutorial, we looked at importing and timestretching audio files in Sony Vegas Pro 8 ®. In this exercise we continue with our project to produce a 35 second promo ad for a garden centre, by examining ways to mix, add FX and then render our finished project.

Our voice over is 30 seconds long, while thanks to timestretching, the music is now 35 seconds in duration. This gives us 2.5 seconds of music to use at the start and end of the promo to wrap around the voice. So with the music at 00:00:00, we now place the voice over at 00:00:02.500. Now we should get a nice couple of seconds of music before the voice over kicks in. OK, great. So let’s give it a listen.

We click shift + spacebar to play from the start of the project and the music plays in nicely. But what’s this? When it hits the voice over, our limiter is working overtime, peaks are in the red and the voice over is completely lost in amongst a muddy dirge of frequencies. Yes, of course, we need to dip the music under the ‘Voice Over’ file so that both elements mix together in perfect harmony.

Again, there are a few optional ways we can do this. First of all let’s try the manual way.

Highlight the music track (‘Music Bed’) by clicking in the ‘track header’. Then hit ‘V’ on your keyboard (That’s ‘V’ for volume.). A blue line will appear along the entire length of the track dissecting the stereo channels of our music file. Approach this blue line with your mouse curser. The curser changes from an arrow into a pointing finger. Take that pointed finger along the line until it is directly under the start of the ‘Voice Over’ file on the track above. Double click, and a square block will appear on the line (see illustration). A box attached to this square should read 0.0db. If you now grab the box with your curser and pull it downwards you will notice that the volume alters. (reset it to 0.0db).

Using a number of these square blocks on the volume line, we can accurately alter the gain on an individual track and mix it with the other elements accordingly. Let’s begin a fade at 2 seconds into the music file. Create a volume block at 00:00:02 and one at 00:00:02.500. Pull the second block down and note the reduction in gain at that point. You may be surprised just how much you need to dip the volume so that the voice over takes precedent over the music. It may be as much as 10db. You’ll need to use your ears to judge when a mix is right. Take into account we may be compressing the audio at a later time, which will bring the hidden frequencies forward. So a little compensation may be needed there.

When you’re happy with the introduction, do the same at the end of the voice over to bring the volume of the music back up to 0.00db. A gradual fade in of the music over the last 2.5 seconds of the voice over may be effective, but be aware that every syllable of the spoken word has to be clear and audible before bringing the music back in to reclaim those frequencies.

Mix Automation in Sony Vegas

OK, so creating all those square blocks and laboriously altering each one is no fun? Well, there is another way. In Vegas you can automate both the volume and pan functions on each individual audio track.

First, go to the ‘track header’ and highlight the ‘Music Bed’ track. Hit ‘V’ as before to insert our volume line.

Next, go to the ‘track name’ box in the ‘track header’ there are 6 icons. ‘arm for record’/’invert track phase’/’track FX’/’automation settings’/’mute’ and ‘solo’. Click on the ‘automation settings’ sun shaped icon (actually it’s a machine cog for ‘Automation’). This will reveal a drop down menu. Currently it may be set to ‘automation off’. Move it to ‘automation write (touch)’ and tick the ‘show automation controls’ box.

Now we hit shift + spacebar to play the music from the top. Below the 6 icons, you will note that all the audio tracks have a separate volume and pan control. Grab the volume control and move it around. You’ll notice that those square boxes are back on the volume line, but this time they are appearing automatically in conjunction with your movements on the volume control. Likewise, if we play with the pan control, an orange line appears alongside the blue one on the audio track, and the music pans from left to right as we alter the control. All this happens in realtime, so you get the effect of live mixing.

But there’s an art to this ‘automation’ process. It may take you a few goes before you get the mix exactly right. Of course you can do a rough automated mix and then alter the volume line manually afterwards. This will be quicker than doing the entire mix manually and may help save some time in the long run.

So, We have timestretched our music and mixed our voice track over the top. We are now well on the way to finishing our project. But we still have a number of processes available to us before we can wrap things up and present our finished promo to the folks at the garden centre.

Volume edit points appear as squares.

FX processing and Plug-ins

We have already put a limiter set to 0.00db across the entire project, which we accessed through the effects icon on the master volume control. But for individual FX processing, we are instead going to access the FX bank via the FX icon situated on the track header. Remember the 6 icons next to the ‘rename’ box? This is where we look for our individual track FX icon. It’s the third one. Between ‘invert track phase’ and ‘automation settings’ (see illustration).

Let’s say, for this exercise that the ‘Voice Over’ track needs compression, as even after mixing, the original recording was getting a little lost when the music bed was added. Compression may help add some ‘thrust’.

Click on the FX icon on the ‘Voice Over’ track and you will see a display called ‘audio plug in’. On Vegas version 8, the audio tracks already have 3 default FX: Noise Gate, EQ and compression. These are pretty standard Sony FX. You may have a favourite Waves compressor that you want to use instead. So first, highlight the Sony compressor plug-in. In the top right hand corner of the box there are 3 FX icons. Hover over the one that displays a cross over it (‘X’). This removes that particular plug-in. Click this and the plug-in disappears leaving you with just the Noise Gate & EQ. To add your favourite Waves plug-in, click the icon next to the one you have just used. This will display a box ‘plug-in chooser’ and the name of the track ‘Voice Over’ (see illustration). There you will see all your familiar FX as Vegas supports both VST and DirectX plug-ins and will have accessed them all during the installation process. Highlight your Waves compressor, click ‘add’ and then ‘OK’. If you just click ‘OK’ the effect doesn’t load into your project. You have to ‘add’ it to the effects chain. Your compressor will now appear alongside the Noise Gate & EQ.

Let’s say you adjust the expander by a few db to smooth out the dynamics, you can then save those setting by renaming the compressor (‘Garden Centre Voice Over’) and clicking on the floppy disk icon next to the name box. Already the voice over is sounding better and maybe it will benefit from some added EQ as well. Click the EQ plug-in and you will notice there are a number of presets in the drop down menu. One of these is called ‘(Ultimate S) Female Voice Over’. Perfect! Add that. Similarly, you may have other more defined EQ that you wish to use from your own FX bank. You can of course access these as you did the Waves compressor.

As for the voice over, it’s now showing a marked improvement, holding its own nicely against the music. You can now exit the audio plug-ins box.

Just like volume and pan, you can automate all the FX plug-ins and have them running in realtime with automated FX. But for this project, we just need a single effect over the entire track, so we’ll leave the automation to a later tutorial.

The FX icon is the third icon along in the track header.

Overall FX processing

As for our project, the music was sounding just fine, so no need to add any external FX or processing. The voice over is now punching through nicely courtesy of some added compression and EQ.

Now, I may be temped to add a touch of compression over the entire project,
But compression can be an unruly beast if it’s over used. You have to consider every possible scenario in which your piece will be heard. It’s OK for broadcast through a public address system at a garden centre. They probably don’t use any compression on their broadcasts. It’s simply a CD player attached to a mixing desk. A touch of light compression over the entire mix will be fine here. But what if they decide to broadcast our finished promo on local FM radio? They compress like crazy! If I add too much compression now, it may sound awful. The best thing to do is to make all your decisions ‘moderate’. Adding a pinch of compression over the entire mix will add life and buoyancy to the over all sound. With moderate use of compression, we’ve created a robust mix that will suit a number of different circumstances.

Select an effect using the plug-ins choser

Rendering in Sony Vegas

Listening through to the mix a number of times, I am now happy that I don’t wish to make any further changes. It has a nice introduction, the voice is sparkling with its added compression and EQ. And a moderate amount of compression over the entire project has made it bounce along nicely. It’s a job well done and I’m ready to render the file to our ‘Garden Centre Promo’ folder.

To do this I go, ‘file’/’render as’. Previously, you may have been rendering a video project, so the ‘Save as type’ setting could be set to .avi, .wmv or .mov etc. We are making an audio file and we wish to render as a .wav. Look in the ‘Save as file’ drop down menu for the ‘Wave (Microsoft) *.wav’ setting. This will ensure that our project is rendered as the correct type. The description should be 44.1kHz at 16 Bit as per our project settings. Rename the file garden_centre_promo_1, browse for the folder, click ‘save’ and away we go.

Within seconds the file will be rendered and ready to be transferred to CD or memory stick, or an FTP site that can be accessed by your customer.
Burn to CD

Once you have rendered the track as a WAV file, you may wish to burn a CD directly from the project. This couldn’t be simpler. Put a blank media you’re your CD burner drive, Click on ‘tools’ and ‘burn disc’. Choose an option from the drop down menu (‘track at once’ audio CD or ‘disc at once’ audio CD) and click ‘start’. The entire project will be rendered as one track onto the CD. (You may also want to refer to this article about choosing the right burning speed when burning audio-CD's. Ed.)

With our ‘Garden Centre Promo’ project rendered as a WAV file and burned to CD, it’s now ready to present to the folks down at the garden centre. At 35 seconds and with pleasant music and a sparkling voice over I reckon it’s well within their brief. It won’t be long before we hear our production being broadcast between instrumental cover versions of well known hits, while newly wed couples scour the shelves on their quest for the perfect potted plants for their new home!

It’s not what you quite imagined doing for a living when you set up your multi media audio/visual production business, but, hey. Work is work. Whatever pays the bills! All you can do is make it sound as good as it can possibly be and build up a reputation for quality work at a competitive price. And hope that eventually Jay-Z returns your call!


Vegas Pro product page at Sony Media Software
Royalty-Free Music by Pierre Langer at
More in this series:

You may also want to read Part One of this series.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Get the Work Done

Music composers' strategies and tips for overcoming procrastination

By Kole Hicks

We’ve all been in this kind of situation before... Deadline is approaching quickly, inspiration and motivation are lacking, but procrastination is in full effect. No matter what field you work in the "wall" will rear it’s ugly head and it is essential as working professionals that we obtain the knowledge to climb over it so we can become productive once again and finish our project(s) before the deadline. Being a "victim" of procrastination in the past, I’ve spent many hours researching, thinking on my own, and talking to other professionals about how to deal with the topic and... perhaps more importantly... how to overcome it so we can Do the Work.

*While this topic is quite broad and applies to many different professions, the following strategies and tips for overcoming procrastination will be presented in a way that will be most beneficial to Composers for Media.


I. Work on Another Cue

Whether it’s boredom from working on the same piece of music for hours straight or a lack of inspiration, I can guarantee some musical cues will take longer to finish than others. When I’m stuck and dumbfounded on what to do next (Should I have the Clarinet play the melody here? Maybe I should change keys there? Etc.) I’ll save/close the session and begin to work on a new one.

I’ve found that many of us reuse motifs when scoring for a whole project and working on another piece of music (perhaps similar or very different from the other cue) can help give you ideas on how to resolve your issues with the "plagued" cue you left earlier. Maybe playing the same melody in a different time signature will spark an idea or perhaps even re-harmonizing that melody. Either way, I’ve found it’s beneficial (especially when the deadline is tight) to keep being productive, but focus your attention on a new cue if stuck on your current one. Often, this has inspired me to finish the "plagued" cue when I’ve come back to it with "fresh ears."


II. Do Another Activity

This is the most commonly recommended tip from other composers I know. There are as many different ways to "relax" and take time away from working on the "plagued" cue as there are stars in the sky. So, I’ll just list a few of the activities that have seemed to work for other composers, but will go into detail on one of my activities and why it worked.
  • Take a Nap, Take a Walk, go play a Game or watch a Movie, Exercise, Coffee break, etc.
  • One of the activities I’ve yet to mention, but has been very effective for me is... Taking a Shower. Some of my most creative and inspirational moments have come from taking a shower, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I found an article describing and supporting this "phenomenon." (Link) I’m paraphrasing, but the summary of the article went a little like this... "Showers are "inherently" relaxing and by preoccupying your body with familiar scrubbing/washing movements (some could say that are etched into muscle memory) it allows your mind the freedom to relax and follow certain thinking paths that may not have been available when you were stressfully working earlier."

So, if I’m ever in a dire situation where I’ve absolutely run out of ideas (or even need to refocus) I’ll hop in the shower. If I wasn’t able to think of anything that would solve my musical dilemma while taking a shower, I’ll at least feel refreshed and energized so that I’ll be better prepared to confront/resolve the issue.


III. Step Back and Organize Your Thoughts

This is especially important if you’re writing many different cues that have to relate to each other, scoring a huge project, or are just writing a very long piece of music. In these situations (especially if you’ve already been writing recently) it’s not uncommon to just "run out of ideas." So, what some of my colleagues and I have found to be helpful, is to stop actually writing music and take the time to figure out the "big picture." Ask yourself many different questions (A few examples below) and write down the answers on paper so that you have a "guideline" to follow.

Where/How will this start? Where will the Climax be? Will there be a Modulation, if so... where? (perhaps even as detailed as) How many bars will this section last?

If this isn’t enough, go one step further and visually represent the form of the entire song. Here is an example:
I highly recommend working in either of the previous ideas to your music creating process, even if you’re not stuck and procrastination is running rampant. This is because executing either of the suggestions (or perhaps both if you so choose) will help you focus your ideas and position yourself so that you are in the best spot possible to accurately express and compose what is needed.


IV. Baby Steps

It’s also very common (especially when working on larger projects) to become overwhelmed by the amount of work that needs to be completed. So much so, that you can procrastinate so much that it actually ends up putting more pressure on you than before.

So, one of the most effective ways of combating this is by separating everything down into tiny little chunks/goals that are easy to achieve (especially when compared to the overall goal of "finishing the score").

To demonstrate what I mean further, if writing a whole cue is too overwhelming then break it down by sections. If each section is still overwhelming, break it down by chords. If chords are still overwhelming, then have one of your goals be "I’ll figure out the first few notes of this particular chord or melody." It’s all up to (and perhaps more importantly) controlled by you.

The overall goal of this method is to simplify your tasks and take away the stress gained from being overwhelmed by a large amount of work, so that the composition process can be allowed to flow more smoothly and thus... be more productive. Before you know it, all those tiny goals you set for yourself and accomplished will eventually result in a finished score.


V. Food!

Perhaps it’s just me, but when I get on a writing spree I tend to neglect a "regular/normal" eating schedule. It’s easy to think that you’re a machine and can run off of inspiration alone, but the lack of actual energy will eventually begin to deteriorate your motivation and productivity. Having a great wholesome meal can help resolve this issue.

Now, I don’t mean go over to a fast food restaurant and pick up something there really quickly or even ordering a pizza (unless your deadline is very tight). I’m recommending that you set aside time to either go to a nice restaurant (perhaps your favorite place... I always justify it by saying "If I reach this goal I’ll go to this nice place to eat") or taking the time to cook up one your favorite dishes. The extra time away from your writing desk will allow your brain to relax or at least occupy itself with something other than work. The great food will help re-energize you so that finishing that "plagued" cue is no longer an issue.


VI. Just Finish It

Last but certainly not least, sometimes it’s best to just finish the work. Even if you’re unhappy with where it’s going or completely lacking original ideas, the burden of "I Need to finish this now!" is lifted off of your shoulders. This in no way infers that you have to keep the music as it is in this state, as you can always come back/change it later, but by finishing whatever is troubling you the options to relax, move on, etc. are now open.

Plus, you may gain some additional inspiration and most definitely a confidence boost by pushing through and finishing something that you otherwise thought was "impossible." Furthermore, if the person paying you wants to hear a finished demo of whatever you’re composing, pushing through and "Just Finishing It" will give you that cue to send over. Who knows, perhaps this producer/director/audio lead will love the section that was giving you trouble earlier.

This concludes "Do the Work" but I hope you find these 6 procrastination pummeling strategies and tips as useful as I did (and still do!) when that ominous "wall" appears in the distance. Best of luck and keep composing fellow artists!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Working with audio in Sony Vegas® - Part One - Importing & Timestretching audio files

By Simon Power

In this series of articles we will be offering fundamental help and advice to amateur and semi-pro audio/visual producers who use Sony Vegas and want to incorporate music, voice overs and SFX in their productions.


Sony’s Vegas Pro® is an excellent creative tool for audio/visual work. It’s intuitive and powerful, and especially good when it comes to adding those extra touches that will make your presentation stand out from the rest.

Vegas 8.1 ramps up the 64 bit & Surround capabilities, but for these tutorials we’ll stick to something a little less involved. Vegas Pro 8 gives perfectly good results. You can access an unlimited number of 24bit/192kHz audio tracks as well as 30 real time effects including support for VST and DirectX. So that’s more than enough for any low budget audio promo job like the one I have in mind for this tutorial.

Getting Started

Because we’re concentrating on music and audio capabilities of Vegas, let’s say we’ve been commissioned to produce a short audio promo ad. It will be broadcasted at regular intervals between the music over the P.A. system at a ‘garden centre’ to advertise their “credit crunch” deals. Sure, we’d all love to be doing the next Jay-Z album promo for Radio Urban 248, but this is the real world and Jay-Z just ain’t returning your calls. So in the meantime, it’s down to the garden centre to earn a few bucks!

We’ve already been given a 30 second voice over WAV file recorded at a local studio, which we’ve saved to a folder called ‘Garden Centre Promo’. And now it’s time to open Vegas Pro 8 and get to work on the project.

Click on ‘File’/‘new’ and check that the audio properties are set to 44.1kHz with a bit depth of 16. Set the resample and stretch quality to ‘best’ as we may have to play around with the duration of the audio files. Click OK and let’s move on.

Jay-Z just won’t answer your calls. 

Choosing some music

You preview the V.O. file and they’ve done a pretty good job. It’s a female artist, good diction, clear, accurate and appealing. What it needs is a great sounding music bed that’s not too obtrusive and sits nicely with this pleasant sounding voice.

One good place to look for music that you can legally use would be the Stock Music collection at Shockwave-Sound. They’ve never let you down when you’ve needed quick and easy royalty free music solutions and whaddaya know? This time is no exception. Within minutes of searching you’ve got a whole ream of quality tracks that may just be suitable for the garden centre promo ad.

The track that really stands out is called ‘Rain Or Shine’ by Pierre Langer. It’s a kind of light and airy acoustic piece that has quite a wholesome feel. The track description uses the terms ‘outdoors’, ‘nature’ and ‘uplifting’, which certainly fits the bill for our garden centre clientele. What’s more, at only 38 seconds it’s a great length for a short promo. It resolves too, so we won’t have use a fade out, so that’s a bonus.

Importing the music into Vegas

Initially, there’s no need to commit to buying the track before we’ve tested it alongside the voice over.

We can listen to the track using Shockwave’s preview facilities. And play the V.O. file alongside at the same time. At least it will give a rough idea of whether the two elements work well together.

Once we’re happy that we’ve made the right choice, it’s time to purchase the track, download it to our ‘Garden Centre Promo’ folder and import it into Vegas.

Vegas can read any number of different audio formats, WAV, MP3, WMA, PCA, AIF, MPEG audio and AC-3. I’ve chosen to download the track from Shockwave as a WAV file.

To import into your project, first create an audio track in your ‘track header’ by either going ‘insert’ and ‘audio track’, or by right clicking in the track window and choosing ‘insert audio track’. Highlight the track and go to ‘file’/’open’. The ‘open’ box offers the option ‘Files of type’. Make sure this is set to ‘All Project & Media Files’ so that Vegas will recognise all associated files. Alternatively, you could use the drop down menu to go to ‘Wave (Microsoft) *wav’ so that it will specifically recognise that format. But best left to the default ‘All Project & Media Files’. Browse to find the ‘Garden Centre Promo’ folder, highlight the WAV file and open it. The WAV will appear on the designated audio track in the timeline next to the cursor.

Now double click on ‘track name’ in the ‘track header’ and rename the track ‘Music Bed’.

Put the file at 00:00:00 in the project window. If you wish to move it, simply grab it by holding down your left mouse button.

As soon as you’ve imported an audio file it’s a good practise to make sure there is a good sturdy limiter plug-in on the output level. Most professional music files will peak at 0.00db, but to be sure that your project never exceeds this, Vegas provides a number of plug-ins with limiting in mind.

Go to your master mixer and click the master effects icon. Choose a limiter or peak master plug-in and set it to 0.00db (they normally default at this setting). Doing this will avoid any nasty clipping or peaks later on.

Preview the music using Shockwave-Sound’s media player.

Importing the voice over into Vegas

At this point, let me mention Vegas’s Project Media function. It’s a way of grouping together all your media making it available at your fingertips for immediate use. You can drag and drop files from the ‘media bins’ into your project window easily and efficiently. And this can often cut down on time spent on project management. It may be something we will refer to in greater depth in later tutorials. For this simple exercise, its use is limited.

Check it out by clicking on the ‘Project Media’ tab above the project window.

Now that we’ve got our music bed lined up, we can import our voice over into the project window. We do this in the same way that we imported the music bed, but onto a separate audio track that we can name ‘Voice Over’.

Our project now consists of two audio tracks. The ‘Music Bed’ and the ‘Voice Over’. These are the only files we require for this project. Once we have saved the project as a .veg file to our ‘Garden Centre Promo’ folder we can begin work on the project.

Preparing the ‘Voice Over’ file

By clicking on the exclamation mark in the ‘track header’ of the ‘Voice Over’ track, I can solo the voice and play it without hearing the music bed as well.

I notice from doing this and also looking at the waveform, that there’s a few seconds of dead air at the start of the voice over file that need removing.

There’s a number of ways to do this. You can right mouse click on the file to reveal the drop down menu. Here you will see the options, ‘open in trimmer’ or ‘open in Sound Forge’ (this is dependant on you having Sony’s Sound Forge designated as your assigned audio editor). These options are perhaps better for more detailed editing. For a simple thing like this, it’s easiest to remove the dead air from the audio file whilst it’s still in the timeline. Do this by grabbing the start of the file in the ‘square icon’ zone (see illustration) and pulling it towards the right until the edge matches up with the very start of the waveform.

If need be, you are also able to ‘scrub’ in Vegas by grabbing the curser and pulling it back and forth. For those who may be used to analog editing (fairly unlikely these days!), this is a useful and familiar method. But the accuracy of the timeline really out weighs the necessity for such things. (But it sure makes a nice sound, don’t it?). OK, we’ve done a quick snip, so now we’ve got a voice over that begins immediately at the start of the file.

Now the voice over file no longer starts at 00:00:00, so we need to drag it back to the start in the project window. Here’s a tip while dragging files around in the Vegas project window. Make sure the ‘auto-ripple’ function is disabled first. (That’s ‘ctrl+L’ on a PC. Or you can click on the ‘auto-ripple’ icon on the toolbar.) It’s a great function, because it means you can shift all your media around in one go, just by grabbing one file. But if you leave it on, you can displace everything in your project unintentionally, which is a real pain!

So with ‘auto-ripple’ disabled, we can drag the shortened ‘Voice Over’ file back to 00:00:00.

 Grab the start of the file in the ‘square icon’ zone.

Deciding on duration

OK, things are looking good for our garden centre promo ad. We have a project set up that includes a voice over and a music bed and we’re ready to mix and match the elements so they sound good together.

We’ve established that our voice over is 30 seconds in length, while the duration of the music bed is 38 seconds. Unlike radio or TV, where duration is of paramount importance, the broadcasts produced for this garden centre are fairly loose and the brief was to make the promo somewhere between 30 and 40 seconds in length.

So, for this exercise, let’s say that we’ve decided that the promo will be 35 seconds in length. This means, of course, that we will need to reduce the length of the music by 3 seconds from 38 to 35 seconds. For this we will need to rely on Vegas’s timestretching abilities.

Timestretching in Sony Vegas

Timestretching is a way of compressing or stretching out the audio without altering the pitch. A key use for this might be strict radio or TV commercials where the duration has to be exact. Or a remix where you want to alter the tempo of the vocal but keep the same key. There are lots of different applications for timestretching and in Vegas it couldn’t be simpler. For minor adjustments to duration, tempo or for BPM matching it’s perfect. And you can stretch audio on-the-fly in real time, so you can hear the results instantly and adjust accordingly.

So let’s alter the duration of the music from 38 seconds to 35 seconds without altering the pitch.

First highlight the music file.You can set the timestretch attributes on each separate audio file by right mouse clicking on the file and highlighting ‘properties’. Here you will notice a tab for ‘audio events’. Set the timestretch/pitch shift to ‘classic’, then take a look at the stretch attributes. There are 19 attributes that you may be familiar with if you have used Sony or Sonic Foundry timestretch plug-ins before. Each algorithm has a different overall effect on the way the timestretching behaves and consequently how it sounds. But generally for music, the ‘A03 Music 3 (less echo)’ attribute will be the best one to use. Certainly in this case, where we are stretching (or rather, compressing) an entire mixed track. Experiment with each attribute when you have time. It may help you make decisions about timestretching in the future. Once you’ve set the attributes, you can move on with the timestretching process.

 Press control and a wavy line appears under the icon

Here’s how you do it. First, highlight the audio file and magnify to a reasonable size using the zoom tools in the bottom right hand corner of the project window. Then position your mouse curser at the end of the file and run it up and down the far edge. You’ll notice the attached icon displays 2 different modes. When you are close to the top right angle (where there’s a blue triangle), the curser displays a curved icon. This is the ‘fade’ function. To alter the fade offset you would need to grab that blue triangle and push it backwards. But for timestretching, you need to move your mouse curser out of that zone and down the vertical edge of the file. You’ll notice that the icon alters to a square shape. This is the area we’re interested in. Hover the curser about midway down the vertical edge and press the ‘control (Ctrl)’ key on your PC keyboard. You’ll notice a wavy line has appeared under the square icon (see illustration). Now you’re in timestretch mode. Keep that control button down and grab the edge of the file (a blue line will appear signifying your start point). Drag the vertical edge backwards (to make the duration shorter), or forwards (to make it longer).

Yep, it’s that simple. If you preview the track while altering the duration you will hear the effect instantly with no processing time. You’ll also notice that a yellow box has appeared in your timeline. The numbers in the box signify the amount that you are stretching in seconds, frames, samples, measures or beats. Whatever mode your timeline is set to, in fact. If you wish to alter this mode, right mouse click on the timeline to reveal a drop down menu displaying your options and alter accordingly.

Of course, there are limits to just how much timestretching is acceptable. For a start, the composer will have chosen the tempo of the music for specific reasons. Stretch it too much either way and it may alter the mood. Also, there’s the technical aspect to consider. Listen carefully to the track once you have stretched it. Although the algorithm is exceptionally good in Vegas, there will be degradation of the sound. Most algorithms will work well up to 130%. Vegas goes way beyond that and still sounds good. But it’s a personal choice depending on your project and the acceptable levels of sound manipulation.

For this exercise, I simply grab the end of the music bed file, press ‘control’ and drag the file duration back from 38 to 35 seconds.

In the next part of the tutorial we will be looking at how to mix audio files using manual and automated mixing. We’ll also be checking out FX processing and plug-in applications. As well as the rendering process and CD burning facilities. That’s in part two of this ‘Working with audio in Sony Vegas tutorial’.


Vegas Pro product page at Sony Media Software
Royalty-Free Music by Pierre Langer at

More in this series:

You may proceed to Part Two of this series